The perennial debate over whether Malaysia or Singapore has better food is something that need not exist, in my opinion. Having lived in both countries and tasted food from every level, it is hard to say either country is better in anyway. Just like everything out there, both have its strengths. While I personally believe Malaysia probably fares slightly better for hawker food in general, I believe Singapore easily overtakes Malaysia for specialty dishes chili crabs and chicken rice.
When I was down in Singapore for two weeks, I got to try Red House Seafood's chili crab ($72 per kg) with fried mantous and their house special, charcoal buns with chili crab filling ($10 for 3, 40% during lunch until Dec 31 in conjunction with their 40th anniversary). In KL, when we go out to have crabs, we normally tend to order them steamed or with salted egg yolk. But there is nothing quite like the Singapore chili crab - with its thick, gooey sauce, tangy flavours and slightly sweet aftertaste.
The dish is only made more memorable after the crabs have been finished and all that is left is to dip the fried mantous into the sinfully good sauce so as to not waste a single drop of it.
The charcoal bun with chili crab filling was a pleasant surprise. The innovative dish incorporates charcoal powder into the bun, which makes it softer than you can imagine, and packed full with the chilli crab filling, it was quite a treat. I don't think I would be able to find anything close to this back home.
The trio of squid was also another stunning dish we tried. While I think this can be easily found in Malaysia, this dish is special because it has all three types of squid in one dish.
We also tried the crab beehoon at Red House seafood, a slightly upscale seafood restaurant along Prinsep Street, just a stone's throw away from the bustling Orchard Road. Again, this is a dish I had not seen very commonly in Malaysia. And the thing about the Sri Lankan crabs in Singapore is that they are easily three times larger than those found in Malaysia. My theory is that the best crabs go to Singapore and Malaysia gets the rest.
For some reason, I don't know why I expected the dish to be a fried dish, but it came as a rich, deeply flavoured broth with a cold water crab from Scotland and the thick variation of beehoon. The milky sheen of the broth reminded me very much of fish head beehoon soup and I wasn't mistaken. The taste of this broth bore some similarities to fish head beehoon soup but with a much more depth to it. The crab seemed to have enhanced the flavour of the soup to bring it to another level. Again, I had to admit that I probably wouldn't be able to find anywhere in KL that could serve up s dish that could rival this.
But if we had to talk about dishes that could contest each other in flavour and consistency in the two countries, it would have to be Roast Paradise's char siew. Admittedly, Randall and Kai, the two Gen-Y owners of the hawker stall in Old Airport Road Food Centre, completed a four week training course in Kuala Lumpur before opening their stall. But they have taken the best of what they could learn from an expert in KL and made it into their own masterpiece in Singapore.
I had the utmost privilege of getting to speak to Randall, a 26 year-old entrepreneur who believed so much in the passion he had for food and wanting to establish his own business, that he was willing to go against his parents wishes in the initial stage to go into the hawker trade. In only four weeks of training, he and Kai had mastered the art of preparing char siew and now serves to a strong crowd almost daily.
The sweet marinade of the char siew meat ($4.50 for 100gm), coupled with an unparalleled expertise in the technique of achieving a tenderness, is what makes this dish memorable from start to end. The trip to the food centre might be a hassle for some, but it is worth making the trip down.
The dishes come with a garlic rice ($0.60) option or the freshly made Hakka noodles ($2.20). They had run out of garlic rice and roasted pork ($4.50 for 100gm) when we went there at about 4pm (towards the end of their second service) but we were very fortunate to be able to try the Hakka Mee.
For the prices you're able to get the food in Singapore dollars, without conversion of course, hawker food is incredibly affordable compared to Kuala Lumpur, where an average bowl of noodles can cost RM5.50 nowadays.
Would I say either country's food is better? I strongly believe they're both good in its own way and encourage a healthy competition.
Roast Paradise 烧味天堂- Old Airport Road Food Centre Stall #01-122